Memoirs of Sir Finical Whimsy and His Lady
London: M. Smith, 1782. First edition. Disbound but collating complete including full and half titles: , iv, 5-20. Measuring 240 x 170mm and in just about Fine condition on account of some light soiling and foxing to final two leaves. Contemporary manuscript annotations revealing the identities of several persons or places on full title and page 10 else unmarked. A scarce satire about London's courtesans and the women who associated with them, ESTC reports copies at only 5 libraries; it does not appear in the modern auction record, and the present is the only example currently in trade.
Though she began her life in the gentry, Seymour Fleming, Lady Worsley would eventually find herself among the ranks of London's demi-monde as an in demand courtesan and overall scandalous figure. Her marriage at 17 to the much older and ill-suited Sir Richard Worsley was the equivalent of "honorable prostitution" in the sense that it was financially and socially beneficial to both families but not to Fleming herself. Indeed, she would even testify in court that her husband had engaged in candaulism, forcing her to appear naked in front of other men at the bathhouse in Maidstone, Kent. Several of these men -- most notably and publicly George Coventry, Viscount Deerbrook and George Bissett -- would become her lovers and father children with her. Unable to divorce her husband, Fleming separated from him. Joining the New Female Coterie of Sarah Pendergast's brothel in King's Palace, Fleming took her place as one of London's notorious celebrity courtesans and became the subject of numerous satires and erotic narratives released during the period.
The present satire opens with a dedication to Henrietta, Lady Grosvenor who, like Fleming, was born to privilege, was married to an older, philandering man in her teenage years, and who lived among the nobility before becoming a courtesan. As it opens, the piece acknowledges tongue-in-cheek the contributions that courtesans make. "It is become a maxim in these refined times to consider female prostitution as a political good...It may be argued that no man's wife, sister, or daughter would be in a state of security if women of your ladyship's spirit did not stand forth the guardians of female chastity." Implicitly, in tying together these two elite women, the satire also acknowledges how the larger system (including their parents and husbands) has prostituted them. In this sense, no "wife, sister, or daughter" is safe from violation. It is notable that the satirist never lets the men off the hook in his critiques of the social situation at hand. Born into families that "Mrs. Pilkington in her Memoirs has published about," they are not virtuous but instead "persuade us that vanity and folly are the hereditary characteristics of the family." While Seymour Fleming might be notorious for her eventual employment, the satirist ensures that readers are exposed to, titillated by and somewhat horrified by the exposures her husband forced her into along the way -- things detailed in this short piece, including his allowing male guests to spy on her as she disrobed in her chamber, encouraging his friends to attempt to seduce her, and otherwise urging men of privilege "to have your turn." By the end of the satire, readers do not wonder at her choices -- or indeed at the existence of any woman's "initiation" into "Mrs. P[endergast]'s seminary...that female society where a channel of communication will be opened."
ESTC T39131. Not in the Register of Erotic Books. (Item #5450)